July 17, 2017

‘Fully Connected’ won’t help cure information overload


“Fully Connected: Surviving and Thriving in an Age of Overload” by Julia Hobsbawm, 2017, Bloomsbury, $28, 256 pages

Your phone will not stop ringing.

It chimes constantly, too, letting you know that you’ve got mail. Facebook announces itself with a “thwock,” and another noise works as a calendar notification. On one hand, it’s nice to be needed. On the other hand, you’d like to throw everything into a nearby river and walk away. But before you do, read “Fully Connected” by Julia Hobsbawm and you might feel better.

Your entire life is run by networks. Think about it: the roads you travel, your health care, banking, social media, real-life friends and foes, the games you play or follow, certainly your work. If you think everything’s somehow connected these days, you’re right.

That’s because, says Hobsbawm, we live “cheek by jowl with another species entirely: technology.” Our computers, smartphones, clocks, even our entertainment, seem to have a life of their own, a phenomenon that started when the telegraph was invented. It can be a good thing or it can be overwhelming.

Social health, defined as “who, what and when you know,” is the remedy for that, Hobsbawm says. Having social health can spur change and fix “information obesity … time starvation” and other connection ills from which modern humans suffer. The lack of social health, in fact, can lead to stress, badly organized infrastructure, uncertainty, misplaced optimism bias and even criminal behavior.

To achieve social health, she says, individuals need networks, knowledge, management, time, good communication with others, and a “sixth sense,” or intuition, all of which are designed to ease connectedness overload. It also helps to remind ourselves that we can aim for 5,000 Facebook friends, but we only really socialize with 150 people, on average. Also, we should remember most networks are “less planned … and far more accidental and organic than people may think.”

Overall, Hobsbawm says that “Connection is the very essence of life.” But it’s also important that “the power of being connected is … (knowing) the opposite — when to disconnect and unplug.”

Tired of being wired 24/7? You can look inside “Fully Connected” for help, but you may very well not find it there.

Filled with circle-talk, etymology lessons, references to poetry, old song lyrics and a bit of biography, author Julia Hobsbawm goes so off-topic, so often I halfway expected to see SQUIRRELS! every so many pages. In short, this book that should have been about “surviving and thriving in an age of overload” (as per its subtitle) is instead about other things as often as not.

Yes, there is advice in here, but it’s not very clear. You’ll find intriguing ideas, but they can be contradictory. There are thought-provokers but, if you’re a businessperson, you’ve probably already thought about them. It’s all wrapped up in a college-thesis-like essay that, let’s face it, isn’t much fun to read.

Overall, I was no fan of this book. I thought it was inaccessible and, pardon the pun, hard to connect with. You can certainly try “Fully Connected” for yourself, if you’d like, but don’t be surprised if you hang it up early.

Terri Schlichenmeyer reviews books about businesses and business practice.


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